He felt bone weary after the flight. From a speck in the middle of the Pacific to Walkabout Creek, Australia, he’d served as co-pilot on the C-47. Now shaved, changed, and in a Class A uniform, the Executive Officer of the tiny detachment of Americans brought him out to the small town adjoining the RAAF aerodrome. For a meal and a much needed drink. Or so he said. The C-47, DC-3 civilians called the craft, was due to head back tomorrow with medical supplies and sundries. And a packet of orders.
He could feel eyes on him as they walked the few blocks. These days he felt that any place but at his own unit.
The sign beside the door of the place read, “All Ranks Welcome.” Then, in much smaller letters, “Just Mind Your Manners, Please.”
They stepped inside. The place had a rough hewn look. Several civilians seemed to be having lunch. At the middle of the bar leaned three men in an Australian uniform that he did not quite recognize. He pretended not to notice them. But they soon noticed him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw one do a tiny double take. Whispers followed. Then all three of the Aussies gave him a long look. He pretended not to notice.
A fellow of about thirty years came forward with a heavy limp. “G’day, Major Henderson. Got yer table ready. This way.” He led them to a table far away from all other patrons and took their orders.
“Its already started” he observed as he put his dispatch case on an empty chair and sat down.
“Come on, Major. Don’t play coy with me. The commando sleeve flashes I’m wearing are as rare as hen’s teeth most places. And among the most recognized uniform markings in the entire British Empire and Commonwealth. On a Yank like me they’re unheard of. Those three at the bar are curiouser than a room full of cats. Probably think I’m some kind of garritrooper. But they’re being polite and respectful. Think the senior man’s a corporal. If we weren’t officers he’d be over here by now asking questions. And I wouldn’t blame him one bit.”
“Surely you’re overstating things.”
“Not hardly, sir. Couple of weeks ago a planeload of Scottish troops made an emergency landing on our field. I found myself eyeball to eyeball with two officers in kilts until the Skipper vouched for me.”
As their waiter delivered their cold beer all the sunlight coming in the door disappeared. Both airmen looked over as the waiter withdrew. The huge man in the doorway ducked his head out of habit as he stepped inside. He stood nearly seven feet tall. He just didn’t seem that tall because he appeared to be about four feet wide. The uniform couldn’t hide the giant’s heavy muscles. He doffed his beret and headed for the end of the bar.
“Is there one guy in that uniform?” drawled Major Henderson. “Or three?”
“We’ll find out anytime,” he replied. “The corporal’s going over to talk with him.”
Moments later the newcomer towered over the pair like the trunk of a hundred year old oak tree. His voice rumbled politely, “Might I join you chaps for a moment? Got a question. I think you may guess which one.” A heavy wood chair groaned in protest as the giant sat.
“Indeed, Captain,” he said as he reached for his dispatch case. “About my sleeve flashes, like the ones you wear. Can’t say much. Whole operation’s classified higher than the moon. I happened to bump into some of your colleagues. Managed to make myself useful. Your High Command awarded me the right to wear these. Then my High Command ordered me to wear ’em, at all times. They may be authorized, but I don’t feel like I earned them.
“Ah, here’s one. Let me unfold it. After a brawl on Midway, your Brigadier Lawson-Smith personally signed the stencil that cranked out one hundred copies of this. I always carry a few. Take a look.”
The big man took the mimeographed page. After a moment he smiled. He turned towards the bar to give a quick thumbs-up sign. The three Aussies immediately raised their glasses in a grinning salute.
“Appears,” rumbled the giant, “that your story precedes you. Those lads heard of a yank wearing the flashes. Wanted to be sure you were the right yank. Now I’m afraid the couple of minutes I had for a beer are up. Pleased to have met you, Captain. And you, Major.”
He and Major Henderson stood with the huge man. They shook hands all around. Just before he departed, the Royal Marine said, “Here’s your paper back, matey. Don’t need it, now. G’day!” The boards of the floor vibrated as he walked out.
“Friend, it appears you have a story spreading around the Pacific Theater,” said Henderson. “But we just shook hands with a genuine Brit legend. You have any idea who he is?”
He shook his head, “None, sir. But, even if he was a company clerk, I wouldn’t want to tangle with him. Much less as a qualified Commando. So who is he?”
“Captain Hercules Hurricane. Former freighter skipper. He’s fought the Axis from Dunkirk to here. And most places in between. When his dander’s up he’s reputed to do things that defy the laws of physics… The laws of physics. Beautiful segue. Because that’s sort of what I want to talk to you about.”
All conversation in the place ceased as a pair of engines roared on the aerodrome’s flight line. His ears perked up. Then he heard it. About every two seconds one engine cylinder backfired. He started to stand, but the Major’s hand touched his arm. He managed to read his superior’s lips through the noise. He sat down.
As the thundering noise abated Henderson said, “Sorry for the surprise. I was going to tell you while we waited for our lunch. We had you pulled in for a special assignment. Your C-47 carries two men in your place. One’s a good pilot. The other’s a top notch trainer. They’ll more than pull your weight while you’re gone.”
“So, just what in the world have I recently ‘volunteered’ for? And is this the proper place for you to tell me?”
“Proper place?” chuckled Henderson. “This is my private office. Everybody in this wide spot in the road has been vetted. By the Aussies. And by us. Charlie, our waiter, he’s on my unofficial staff. And he teaches swimming and other survival skills on post. On post there’s always a bunch of strangers passing through. We’re safer talking here.
“And, besides, we haven’t even had lunch yet and my plan has to be modified. Now I realize I can’t send you anywhere as yourself. Not with those sleeve flashes. But we’d been building an aviator’s identity with credentials similar to yours. That mission got cancelled. Now we’ll just tweak the part for a closer fit to you. Friend, start thinking of yourself as Lawrence Martin.”
Less than forty-eight hours Captain Larry Martin bounced around in the back of yet another Douglas C-47 transport. Already tired of his makeshift seating, he wondered if he would arrive with any part of his body unbruised. Island hopping to India. Ten hours flight up the Indian peninsula. Then over the “Hump” and into China. All to check out if some special aircraft really existed. Or if all the incredible yarns about the crate came from the bottom of a beer glass.
Every time he dozed off his mind replayed some of the strange and downright weird things Henderson told him.
“Captain, every conflict has its mysteries. In the last war the Germans threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the forces alined against them. This consisted of previously unknown science, plus supposedly supernatural things like alleged vampires and zombies. One splinter enemy group claimed to be empowered by Thor and the Norse Gods. If even one of those unconventional attacks managed to succeed for very long the whole thing might have ended differently.
“Then along comes Hitler. Soon after he seizes power he starts grabbing for every mystic object he’s ever heard of. He’s supposed to have lost major expeditions trying to find the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant. And the Japanese put some of their mystics at his disposal. Long story short somebody in Washington decided to counter those efforts. Who started it? Unknown. But start it did. Even before Pearl Harbor strange stuff began being reported in the Pacific Theater. Prehistoric animals on tiny islands. Assassins who seem to walk through walls. And more. So my branch of the operation got set up.
“We have an official name that the War Department hides our budget under. But most call us the Weird War Board. And the operation you literally fell into got you here.” A bumpy landing woke him as they stopped for fuel.
Aloft once again he managed to doze off. “One of our stringers sat behind the scenes for a part of your debriefing about that volcanic island. He got the idea you didn’t agree with the official line of the report. Plus you impressed him with your reporting skills. That got us interested, in you. And especially your unreported postgraduate work in Physics and Electricity. Plus your extensive background in civilian aviation makes you the perfect candidate to prove or disprove an incredible legend coming out of southern China.
“Right before Pearl Harbor we began hearing about a very special air-ship flying with the American Volunteer Group. Now the Flying Tigers are a legend in their own right. No doubt about it. But this is beyond great flying, superior tactics, and incredible bravery. There’s an American, not officially with the A.V.G., flying his own special ship. He’s said to be responsible for the destruction of over one hundred Japanese planes on the ground and in the air. His so-called ‘nightmare’ ship is reported to have a ceiling of over 40,000 feet with a top speed approaching seven hundred miles per hour. It can land in the space of a tennis court. And take off in not much more.
“Hold the questions, Captain. Those are the reports. Some from very credible witnesses. Your mission is to confirm or deny those stories. The pilot, that’s another can of worms. His story checks out, but only for two years before we first heard of him. Beyond that, nothing. Some hard liners at the War Department would want him brought in. But, he’s clearly on our side. The W.W.B. does not want to rock his boat. Your mission is to find out first if his aircraft can do all those seemingly impossible things. Then discover if the ship can do those things without him being in it.
“Your jaw is dropping, friend. The Board has seen things like this before. Take Captain Hurricane, for example. When his adrenaline gets pumping he’s been reported to turn over small to medium Japanese tanks with his bare hands. One of my own men saw him brain a Jap officer with a coconut at about a hundred yards. One line of thought holds that this super-ship may be an extension of the pilot’s special abilities. If that’s the case, let him tear up the enemy as much as he wants. But, if that ship can become mass produced, we want to know how to make that happen. We need to know the secret of Captain Aero!”
They landed in northern India when the timing was just wrong to continue. That gave him a twelve hour layover. Major Henderson’s man on the scene made sure he got food, decent quarters, and a massive rub-down at the British base’s Officer’s Club. In the place’s bar he sat listening to the usual mix of conversations.
Then up came the name he’d been hoping to hear, “…sleeping gas to knock out whole towns near Shanghai. Heard Captain Aero stopped them.”
“Gentlemen, I couldn’t help overhearing,” he began. “I’m headed for those parts. Been hearing all sorts of scuttlebutt about this Aero fellow. Can you enlighten me…” He came away with an incredible story of the enemy laying down clouds of anesthetic gas from a triangular shaped aircraft.
What he was told about the enemy ship sounded a lot like Alexander Lippisch’s work on a series of tail-less designs called the Storch series in Germany in the early thirties. He didn’t need to consult G-2 about the subject. In his undergraduate days aviation publications often reported exchanges of aircraft designs among what became the Axis powers. He just hoped this craft, supposedly downed by Capt. Aero, had only been a prototype.
Come morning, after a decent night’s sleep, he headed “over the Hump.” As the C-47 rolled for takeoff his near perfect memory called up one of the official documents Henderson let him read.
“The Brahmaputra valley floor lies 90 feet above sea level at Chabua, India. From this level the mountain wall surrounding the valley rises quickly to 10,000 feet and higher. Flying eastward out of the valley, the pilot must first top the Patkai Range. Then passes over the upper Chindwin River valley, bounded on the east by a 14,000-foot ridge, the Kumon Mountains. He then crosses a series of 14,000—16,000-foot ridges separated by the valleys of the West Irrawaddy, East Irrawaddy, Salween, and Mekong Rivers. The main ‘Hump’, which gives its name to the whole awesome mountainous mass and to the air route which crosses it, is the Santsung Range, often 15,000 feet high, between the Salween and Mekong Rivers. East of the Mekong the terrain becomes decidedly less rugged, and the elevations more moderate as the flight approaches the Kunming airfield, itself 6,200 feet above sea level.”
Being the only passenger, he managed to talk with the flight crew off and on through the less dramatic portions of the terrain. As they began to descend from the Santiago Range he got sent to his seat in no uncertain terms. If Tojo’s boys wanted to jump them, the pilot informed him, it would be soon. Ten minutes later it happened.
The intercom blared, “Put a chute on and strap down, Martin. Bandits at ten o’clock by eleven o’clock high. Prayers may be helpful.”
He looked out the port. He strained his eyes against the iridescent sky. Only a few scattered thin clouds broke up that wild blue yonder. Then he spotted them. Half a dozen specks diving steeply in formation. Zeros! Even the best piloting could not save the lumbering C-47 from that many bandits.
Suddenly a streak of light flashed under their wing. The C-47 bucked and yawed in the wash of another aircraft. He tried to bring the newcomer into focus. At first his eyes couldn’t keep up with the rushing sliver of silver. How fast was the ship going? Had to be more than five hundred miles an hour. Maybe a lot more. Finally he got a good look.
The hub of the prop came to a needle point. The fuselage seemed a bit long for its diameter. The tail looked pretty standard. Then he noticed the wings. The extra wings. The low slung main wing seemed about what he would have expected on a ship that apparent size. But near the top of the fuselage, just behind the cockpit lay another set of wings about a quarter or a third the size of the main ones. As he watched the secondary wings rotated about thirty degrees upward.
The mystery ship changed course almost instantly. Now she headed straight for the formation of Zeros. The distance between them closed in mere seconds. Smoke trailed behind the ship now. Ahead, one of the Zeros exploded. The blast shoved two of the others out of position. The pilots fought to bring their ships back under control.
More smoke from the new arrival and another of the enemy began to smoke, as well. Now the mystery ship flashed through the Japanese formation. Or, what was left of it. The heavy trailing wake actually turned one of the Zeros completely over.
He balked at believing what he saw next. Only one of the Zeros continued the original attack run. The others either fought to regain control of their craft, or tried to turn against the attacker. As they tried the newcomer pulled into an incredibly tight inside-loop and turn. He tried to calculate how many gravities of force that put on the pilot. His answer made no sense.
Again the newcomer plowed through the group of enemy planes. Another Zero began a slow fall from the skies. With ever increasing speed the newcomer roared back toward the C-47 and the one Zero still on the attack.
He held on for dear life as the ship did a ninety degree wing-over. He saw tracer rounds zipping just in front of the cabin window. Then he felt a few impacts in the area of the wings. A flash of orange light filled his vision as the attacking Zero exploded. His ship shuddered from the blast wave. Slowly the pilot righted the ship.
Now he saw the newcomer pull out of another incredibly tight turn to head back at the remaining Zeroes. The two still flying normally promptly dived while turning back the way they came.
The intercom blared, “Don’t take that chute off, Capt. Martin. That son of a gun may have damaged our landing gear. And, in case you hadn’t guessed, that’s the fellow you were asking about. Captain Aero. He’s going to take an extremely close look at our damage. So don’t even flinch until he’s back away from us.”
A few moments later Capt. Aero’s wonder fighter paced them in the sky. He felt a strange twinge as the gap between the two ships narrowed. Then the other ship dropped down a bit and slipped under the C-47. The twinge grew. Then he recognized the feeling. The same feeling as on the mystery island. He pulled a quarter out of his pocket. He dropped it to the deck. The drop took just a fraction longer than it should have. First the enemy, and now a friend, held a secret that could change the War and the whole world. No wonder Henderson took an interest in Captain Aero.
“Glad you made it, Captain Martin,” said the senior American at the former American Volunteer Group field. “Technically I’m the American military liaison for this region of China. I also look after the handful of A.V.G. pilots who could not join our Armed Forces.”
“I understood that all of the Flying Tigers signed up after Pearl Harbor.”
“A few of them couldn’t. For example, Charlie Harvey makes no bones about having been a flying rum-runner. Still warrants out for his arrest. Under the table, so to speak, he, and the others, still fly the P-40’s against whatever targets we can find for ’em. And they still get paid, also under the table. And I’ve warned our brass. Anybody comes here to arrest them would be lynched by the locals. End of story.
“Now, by a very private signal, I understand you’re here to check out Captain Aero. As you may have heard, I taught him how to fly right before they put together the American Volunteer Group. Then in the summer of ’41 he showed up here with that devil’s ship that saved your bacon today. He can do things with that aircraft that I find hard to believe. Even when I’ve hitched a ride or two in the thing. But it works.”
“And how, Skipper!” he replied. “I’ve been doing calculations about his flying speed, not to mention how many times the force of gravity he seems to use to turn that ship. Doesn’t make sense. Its like I’m using the square root of a minus one. The numbers are imaginary. And, I take it, you have no doubts about his dedication to the war effort.”
“None at all. And the stranger the report the faster he’s on the trail. And I’ll save you the trouble of asking about his background. Aero never seems to talk about the past. Only the future. And his ideas about the future are something else.”
Having checked into quarters he sat in the Day Room waiting for Captain Aero to return. The place was awash with outdated reading material. Even some not in English. He glanced at a stack of Brit story papers like “The Thriller.” In another stack lay issues of “Argosy” and “Blue Book.” Then came some “Super-Detective” and “Ten Detective Aces.” Another bit of bright color caught his eye. With green people and scarlet grass. An issue of “Astounding” he’d never seen.
Just finished with Campbell’s editorial he felt eyes on him briefly. Moving just his eyes he glanced up. He barely caught a glimpse of fabric as somebody moved away. Fabric in the reds and yellows of Captain Aero’s outlandish flight suit. He decided to wait. Chow was in less than an hour. He’d let the Skipper make the introductions.
Didn’t happen. About five minutes later a foot wearing a green Chinese slipper shoved the screen door open. The body that followed wore khaki shorts and shirt. From where he sat he couldn’t make out the face for the cardboard box marked with stylized Chinese writing the fellow held. Then the box got set on the writing table next to the door.
The face looked positively dashing. Slicked back hair with a Clark Gable mustache. Matter of fact, he looked like Clark Gable. Except the ears hugged the man’s head.
“You must be Martin,” came a deep Ivy League voice. “The Skipper said you’d probably be here. Peeped in a minute ago. Most of the guys here can’t bring themselves to read the stories in Astounding. Much less the editorials. I saved this stack of similar titles. After old Wally left they seemed destined for use in the outhouse. Enjoy them while you’re here. Wally made a lot of notes in the things. I find studying the notes more fun than some of the stories. Oh, excuse me. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m Aero.”
They chatted for a moment. He asked a few leading questions which Captain Aero deflected without really seeming to try. Then Aero excused himself until dinner saying he needed to sleep before jumping into a late night session of aircraft modification.
Alone again Capt. “Martin” poked through the box of magazines. All the science fiction titles were there. Even Comet Stories. He’d read most of them, but he flipped through the pages. And he found the marked passages outlined in red pencil with blue pencil notes in other places. Intrigued, he began making his own notes on blank mimeograph paper. A few ideas began to form.
He joined the Skipper for dinner. Aero sat across the room in deep conversation with a Chinese lad of about a dozen years. “Aero’s picking up Chinese from the kid faster than I’d have believed possible. He’s like a sponge for knowledge.”
He said nothing, but speculated to himself just who Aero really was. An hour later the kid hurried up to him with the message that Captain Aero wanted to see him at a small hanger nestled under some high trees. He walked around some recent bomb craters and over some filled in ones to get there. In fact bomb craters made a rough circle around the place.
The hanger held, just barely, Aero’s special ship and a war worn P-40 Warhawk undergoing some sort of renovation. Aero turned from a set of blueprints as he entered.
“Aah, there you are Martin. Scuttlebutt says you’re here to check up on me. You can make yourself helpful as you do. Besides I need another good pilot who’s not overly worried about trying something new. Somehow I think a man who reads Doc Smith would be. Now grab that riveting gadget and help me get the new skin on this old Warhawk.”
Two hours later he’d long since lost count of the strange rivets he’d placed. Then Aero said, “Figured everything out, yet?”
“You check the levels on those three special radios about every thirty seconds. That indicates you want this ‘skin’ to deflect or absorb signals of some kind. Correct?”
“Good man! I’m trying to locate a hidden enemy base. Where they’re building those flaming outlandish weapons and aircraft like that triangular winged ship with the gas weapons. Surely you’ve heard of radar and sonar? Good. If you’re willing you will fly precise north and south routes. I’ll make right angle passes at you from a very safe distance. My ship will give off as special radio signal that will bounce off the P-40’s new shell. Most of the beam should then bounce off the jungle and forest. The scope in my ship will tell me where nature ends and artificial begins. You with me?”
“Sure,” he said, “just like geologists look for oil with small explosive charges. Then what?”
“Then you go back and report. The skipper will call for bombers. I’ll hang around to prevent any escape. Are you with me?”
“Try to keep me away,” he said. Then everything went black.
“What happened?” he said.
“Looks like you slipped on a spot of oil. The back of your head took a bit of a swipe on the toolbox as you went down. You weren’t out long. Are you feeling okay?”
“Strangely, I feel pretty good. Except for a tender spot at the base of my skull. Shouldn’t go to sleep for a few hours. You can keep an eye on me while we work. Okay?”
“Sounds good to me chum.”
As they closed up the P-40’s engine compartment he asked, “What are all those tubes and the modules next to the servos? They’re obviously freshly installed.”
“Your safety net, so to speak. Some of the special stuff from my ship. Thankfully, the old Warhawk was overbuilt for strength of frame. The Rube Goldberg gear acts bit like a high altitude super-charger. We’ll fly the mission at the P-40’s original cursing speed. If we get jumped you flip this covered switch by your left arm. I’m betting you get at least a fifty per cent performance boost. You use that to head back here. Let me cover your retreat. Everything will work automatically. Those modules will tell the servos what to do. When you’re ready to land turn the boost off. Only then land as usual.”
They took off at dawn.
Two hundred miles northwest of the base he began flying north and south. Each leg offset by roughly a mile. Four times in each leg Aero seemed to be rushing right at him. He had about half his fuel left when something happened.
Half way through his pass Aero suddenly pulled the special ship almost straight up. He guessed the looped that followed would take eight to nine times the force of gravity under normal conditions. As Aero passed the same spot again something fell from the super plane. A moment later the jungle at the base of a dome shaped foothill turned a bright red for two hundred feet in all directions.
Three north-south legs later that hill sported a dotted line at its base. Then, from under the foliage came a beam of green light.
Aero broke left and radio silence, “Martin, get the hell out of here. They’re better set up than I thought.”
Now the green ray, and a second one spun in the P-40’s direction. He flipped up the switch cover and pulled the switch in a heartbeat. In his mind he laid out slamming the accelerator to the max and executing an evasive maneuver.
He felt a slight twitch at the back of his skull as the Warhawk slammed on speed. He felt the odd sensation from the island hit his body full force. He gaped as his ship put his plan into effect without him moving a single control.
He ended up skimming the hill just above the trees. Seconds later the rays reached the end of their emplacements’ traverse. Small sections of foliage caught fire as they bounded back skyward. He grinned. Now he had pointers to the weapons. Still skimming the trees he laid a line of fifty caliber fire into the area of the closest whatever it was.
As he banked he saw Aero climbing to meet a flight of Zeros. He let the P-40 stall into another scraffing run at the other position. Then Aero’s voice came through his helmet phones.
“Should have known you wouldn’t run, chum. Flip up that broken axillary fuel gage and push the button. You’ve got eight small rockets hidden in your wings. ‘Cuse me while I do some shooting.”
The pounding sound of machine guns hit his ears. He raised the gage and mashed the single button. As if by magic a weapon’s reticle appeared on his canopy. He felt something move under his little finger on the stick. A glance told him a new button had emerged. He looked up to see two Zeros spiraling downward as a third exploded in the sky.
“Coming back around,” remarked Aero as if on an evening stroll. “Use your pinkie to fire the rockets. But keep well back. That stuff’s like Duodec… Going in again.”
“Holy Hell!” he thought. Duodec, Doc Smith’s fictional duodecaplylatomate explosive. Exponentially more powerful than ordinary blasting agents. “I’d better be damn careful.”
He pulled up and did a wingover. At the range of a mile he put the reticle on his probable target. The floating sight turned red. He kept going. Four seconds later the thing turned green. His little finger mashed the new button. Something trailing smoke whizzed away from his left wing. And the Warhawk pulled back and away like Hell itself was coming.
Hell came. In the form of a hemispherical red flash of light. He gave a wry smile as he realized the thing resembled the flag of the enemy nation. He nosed down, trying to put the domed hill between himself and the shock wave. Most of the blast passed over his head. But the resulting turbulence tossed the P-40 around like a balsa model.
By the time he regained control he was well over a mile past the edge of the hill. A glance showed Aero headed back down, but no other aircraft. He turned back intent on taking out the other beam’s position. He just barely got aligned when it happened.
The upper two thirds of the dome shaped hill seemed to shake from side to side. Landslides began. Whole trees flew in all directions. Then everything began to slowly rise.
He looked at the reticle. Green! He tamped the pinkie button four times before yanking up on the stick. Accelerator to the firewall he told the Warhawk to vamoose. The “island feeling” intensified and the ship took off. Seconds later the entire sky turned red, redder, reddest. As the first part of the shock wave jolted him he saw foam gushing into the cockpit. He jammed the mouthpiece from the oxygen bottle into his mouth just as main blast wave turned the sky from red to black.
He awoke swaddled in pliant bubbles of foam. He felt like somebody had put him through a washing machine’s wringer. As he tried to take in more oxygen he heard voices outside.
“Enough remained of the reserve banks to confirm the theory, sir. The borts were watching. As soon as Professor Kagoshima accidentally released those first particles they came calling. Offered support in return for forced labor manufacturing later on. Then the local military decided to exploit the electromagnetic side effects. Nearly wiped the place out. They controlled development after that. Released just enough to keep the Japanese happy. Orders, sir?”
“Make sure that all the sensitive materials are dust, or gone completely, Senior-Controller. As for you ‘Captain Aero,’ do you know how much trouble you’re in?”
“Not a bit, I would venture, sir,” came Aero’s firm tones.
“Nonsense! You revealed…”
“Revealed what, sir? Nothing beyond my advanced piston engine fighter. We know all sides are already moving beyond that dead end. And my friend, Martin? His only references are lodged in their speculative fiction. To the powers that be here that’s the same as children’s stories of elves and trolls. And the anesthetic in that protective foam will keep him from knowing anything of the cleanup.”
“Points taken, old friend. Just make sure he gets back to his own people safely.”
“Of course, sir.”
He awoke by the side of a gravel road. Wrapped in a thin but warm and strong material, he looked up into the night sky. The constellations of stars were familiar. Too familiar. Unwrapping himself he found he wore a proper Class A uniform. Complete with those blasted sleeve flashes. His “shroud” folded up small enough to fit in the inside pocket of his uniform blouse.
Then he noticed the purple Belt of Venus on the far horizon. Dawn soon. He searched his pockets. No credentials. No cash. Just a small package wrapped in a note. The words glowed in the darkness.
“Good luck, chum! Bet we’ll see each other again. Out there.” The thing was signed with Aero’s stylized capital “A” that he had also seen on some of the special equipment. Inside the package were three of Aero’s tiny controller unit sets.
Then the sun’s rays streamed through a distant cut in the hills on the horizon. The words faded from the note. He looked around. Precisely scribed into the gravel of the road was an arrow. He pulled the Overseas Cap out of his belt and began to walk in the direction the arrow pointed.
Fifteen minutes later he reached a two lane paved road. He noticed a sign to his left. Reading it he let out a yell. Now that’s “Getting back to my own people,” he decided. He’d be home for breakfast.
Major Henderson sat at his desk studying sketches of mammoth creatures supposedly encountered near New Guinea. He closed the folder at a knock on his office door.
“Signal for you, sir,” said the Aussie runner.
Henderson opened the envelope. A moment later he sat open mouthed at the contents.
“Assignment completed. Please send identification credentials, travel authorization, and cash c/o Draft Board/ Pocatello/ Idaho. Cody”